I’m in certainly no place to be “preaching” non-attachment. I have only just begun my own dedicated practice of Vairagya, which is non-attachment. I consider myself in the very early stages, which is a beautiful thing, and also a frustrating thing at times. I suppose it’s frustrating when I get overwhelmed with a myriad of “things” from which I’d like to detach…all at once! Possessions, thoughts, outcomes, people, preconceived notions, ideas, fears, insecurities, money, vanity…it can go on and on. So, how does one simply “break” ties with attachment?
One does not simply, is my initial response. With great practice, over extended time, and with pointed dedication, one hopes to. One may.
So, just for fun and in hopes of making the practice a bit gentler on all of our minds and spirits, I’m going to name three pillars with which to begin. I’m simply choosing these three for me, feel free to mix and match or stick in a realm of higher importance for yourself.
Let’s begin with three areas in which to practice (may I again emphasize practice…) Vairagya. You may think, oh just three? Three’s not hard. But they’re a big three. So, without further ado, here they are:
The Big 3
1. What Other People Think of You
It’s not out of the ordinary to be quite attached to what other people think of you. I’m attached to what people think of me. I just am. We just are. It’s our society. It’s ethnocentrism. It’s egocentrism. It’s become unconscious.
I challenge us to become conscious of the behavior that’s become unconscious.
It’s the only way to create change; it’s the only way to heighten one’s own awareness; and it’s the only way to detach.
What other people think about you and how other people treat you, they’re in the same category. I’m not suggesting we all throw our hands up in the air and let people walk all over us. I’m by no means proposing we simply ignore it if someone meaningful in our lives begins to react to us or treat us differently; that is a sign of something, a sign that calls for inquiry. I’m simply referring to everyday interactions, primarily with strangers and acquaintances (although I do believe it would benefit one’s relationship with loved ones to practice non-attachment towards ordinary, possibly not-so-lovey-dovey incidents too).
Again, I’m not referring to big, important opinions of loved ones that deserve weighty consideration. Our loved ones care for us and want the best for us, so what they think does matter; it’s the little things, the nuances of human relationships, that are going to exist regardless of our reaction to them that can be let go.
Attaching to a stranger cutting you off on the freeway, not holding the door open for you, or acting brusquely towards you in line at the market is frankly no more or less warranted than attaching to a friend thinking you make poor fashion choices, your brother thinking it’s stupid that you’re vegetarian, or your boyfriend thinking you spoil your dog too much. People are going to think and do what they will; and you will think and do what you will. Wear that silly stuff, be vegetarian, spoil your dog, whatever. Do what makes you happy. Not everyone’s going to think you’re cool, or funny, or smart, or attractive, or wise. They just aren’t. It doesn’t mean you aren’t those things, and it doesn’t mean you should think yourself any less those things. We are, after all, neither our bodies nor our minds…so why should we attach to any of it anyhow?
This one’s hard. I’m attached to my possessions. You probably are too. Not all of them, but I admit that the “what five belongings would you save if your house was on fire” is one of my least favorite questions. Since I was a child and first heard that question I thought, oh but how would I choose?! I recall being able to answer it with average ease, but struggling and growing a bit anxious at the thought. Now I wouldn’t even entertain the idea because I simply would give myself a headache. I don’t know, one of the seventeen journals I have saved since I began journaling nearly fifteen years ago? My precious jewelry? Photo albums? Can my entire hope chest, full of sacred things, count as one item? Le sigh.
I have two new bracelets from the yoga studio, a hemitite string of mala and a vegan “leather” buddha strap. I’m unreasonably excited to wear one or the other each day, and yet…I’m painfully aware that, at some point, they will become just “belongings.” Yes, I’ll still love them. Yes, they’ll still have meaning for me. But they’ll be normal parts of my collection of “things.” I’ll be used to them. They won’t be new, and therefore my craving for more newness will rise once more to the surface.
It’s a sick cycle, really!
I took nearly fifteen bags of stuff to goodwill when I moved. I recall nearly none of what I donated, save for the items peeking out the tops of the huge, bursting at the seems bags that I hauled off. A pink checkered coat that I bought at the mall two winters ago on sale at a store I would never ordinarily shop in. I bought it, and liked it. But every time I wore it all I remembered was me trying it on in the store and my ex telling me I shouldn’t have “worn those jeans with those boots.” They didn’t look good together. Boom. Negative connotation. Negative attachment. Throw. It. Away.
So I’ve learned that attachment to “things” can vary. It’s not always the I love this sooo much kind of attachment. Sometimes it’s a negative memory that replays each time something is looked at, used or worn.
Either way, stuff is just stuff. Without any of it, you’d still be you, and I’d still be me. I’m pretty intoxicated by my recent shedding of old junk, I just want to donate more…I want to have less…I want to live more simply. But even that, the notion of “living simply,” I’m attached to that! Oh how deep the concept runs…
I realized in my last yoga teacher training philosophy class, I’m addicted to attachment. Be it positive, negative, obsessive or anticipatory. I’m addicted. I’m constantly making notes, plans, attaching to the outcome of nearly everything. I dig my nails into old memories that cause me pain, masochistically dousing myself in the thick, inky sadness of a memory periodically. I let it stay, because it’s comfortable in its place, its place in my file of memories. I let it blacken me with angst each time it replays, coloring my view of a place, person and experience. Rather than placing that memory in the shredder, because it no longer deserves a home in my consciousness, I hold onto it. I’m afraid to let it go. What if I want to remember it again one day?
It’s okay to have “stuff.” It’s not a bad thing to have a jewelry box full of jewelry, a closet full of clothes, a kitchen full of appliances. It’s only a bad thing if happiness depends on these things. It’s really only a bad thing if, God forbid these things were lost somehow, identity would be splintered and disheveled.
Who we are has nothing to do with what we have. Things are simply ornaments. We must be careful to avoid the blinding light reflected by their glitter.
3. Your Body (the biggest of The Big 3)
Boom, shakalaka. Busted out the big guns for number three. This is my hardest one. You’re not your body, you’re not your mind. Totally, I think to myself every time I say it, I’m neither my body nor my mind. But if I were o pull on my jeans tomorrow morning and suddenly not be able to get them past my thighs…I’d have a total identity crisis.
It’s gross to admit. It’s disgusting and embarrassing, but hey, I admit it. I’m not there yet. I’ve not acquired a peaceful union with the “I’m not my body nor my mind” notion. I’m accepting and welcoming of it, but I’m not sold hook line and sinker just yet. It will take a lot of practice for me.
I’m attached to my physical appearance.
I don’t like it, and frankly I’m attached to the outcome of this practice. I wish to myself that I could always be happy in my life and in my physical body no matter what it looks like, and I feel calm and “with it” in those moments. But the truth is I’m attached. I hold myself to a whole different standard than I do other people. I love and admire others with practically no regard to their bodily appearance, their transient vessels. So why do I not offer myself the same standard?
I am a Soul. I’m not a body, I’m not a mind. The body and the mind compliment what I am, and that is a Soul. A thread of Awareness. A spirit. A divine cognizance.
The flatness of my stomach has nothing to do with my soul. The length of my hair has nothing to do with my thread of Awareness. The circumference of my thighs has nothing to do with my spirit. The size of my pants, bra and shoes have absolutely nothing to do with my divine cognizance.
I believe practicing non-attachment towards one’s own physical appearances would be the best recipe for youth, beauty and success around. How ironic, right?
The best serum, the best medicine, the best nourishment…is simply Vairagya.
So let’s all heighten our awareness together. Let’s all dedicate to the practice of non-attachment. Begin by lighting a little fire beneath that awareness. Rub some sticks together beneath it, let the warmth and hint of smoke get things cooking. Marinate some ideas; you are neither your body, nor your mind. What others think of you is null. You would be exactly who you are with or without any of your possessions. You would also be exactly who you are regardless of how your body changed, aged or dulled physically.
It’s a practice. A lifelong practice. One whose outcome we cannot predict, and oughtn’t try to predict. Simply practice. Simply be. Non-attachment. It’s like a breath of fresh air. Practice diligently, practice without attachment to the practice itself (tricky, I know). Let it be gradual. It must be gradual.
In non-attachment we awaken to our own subtle vibrations within the cosmic frequency. Tune into it. Non-attachment turns down the volume on all things unimportant. Tune in, and welcome the blissfully sweet sound of freedom.